Poke the bear

October 11, 2019 § 6 Comments

There are lots of rules in cycling. One of those rules is, “In the sprunt, get out of the way.”

This is the rule for 99% of riders. If you are not leading someone out or getting ready to unleash your killer sprunt, you are in the way. You are a “clogstacle.”

As a career clogstacle, I understand how this works. On the last lap of the NPR #fakerace, I tenaciously grab the wheel of EA Sports, Inc. People try to horn in but I elbow them out of the way.

With 1k to go the pace goes from torrid to unbearable. People are now fighting like mad for any shelter from the wind and are ready to kill in order to latch onto the wheel of EA Sports, Inc.

This is when I stand up, take my briefcase off the overhead rack, and quietly shuffle to the back of the bus while the real racers do their thing, i.e. risk death and catastrophic injury for the massive jolt of hormones that are released when you kill the mastodon with your sharpened stick.

Fortunately, there is constant churn at the #fakerace, and someone is always having to learn the Rule of Clogstacles. Last Tuesday the scholar-in-training was Aaron Somebody in a USC team kit.

There were a mere 400 meters to go and hardly anyone was left in the tattered front group. EA Sports, Inc., was locked onto the wheel of Dante Young as Davy Dawg wrapped it up so that the tires were whining like a cur getting beaten with an iron rod.

At this very inopportune moment, the USC rider decided that where he really wanted to be was where EA Sports, Inc. was, and physics not readily allowing two bodies to occupy Dante’s wheel at the same time, USC Boy did what any self-respecting sprunter would do. He leaned into EA Sports, Inc. to nudge him off the wheel.

Unfortunately, dense masses of muscle and ice cream do not nudge easily, and EA Sports, Inc. nudged back, sending USC Boy off on a somewhat different line of travel.

Undeterred, USC Boy came back to the buffet line to see if he could get another helping. This time the nudge was more of a hard bang, but dense muscle and ice cream and a 20-lb. weight advantage and a 150-lb. meanness advantage weren’t impressed.

EA Sports, Inc. moved his bars forward and then drifted back a few inches so that now the two gentlemen’s handlebars were locked together. “What do you think you’re doing?” EA Sports, Inc. politely inquired.

“That’s my wheel,” USC Boy said.

“I don’t see your name on it,” EA Sports, Inc. replied.

As the speed hit the mid-30’s and the actual sprunt was about to occur, and as EA Sports, Inc. was in the clear position to slightly twiggle his bars and send USC boy somersaulting atop the pavement, USC Boy relaxed on the pedals, the bars unhooked, and EA Sports, Inc. went flying around Dante for the immortal, unforgettable, legendarily mythic NPR #fakerace #fakewin.

I quit observing, folded up my Hubble telescope, and caught up to the scraggle at the light. EA Sports, Inc. and USC Boy were having what is often called an animated discussion but in cycling means “almost coming to blows” about who did what when how and why.

USC Boy tried to explain that he wanted to improve, that he was seeking instruction from the master, that he only wanted to rectify misunderstandings, but at the same time was insisting that EA Sports, Inc. had opened up a bit of a gap that he was merely trying to exploit.

“Dude,” EA Sports, Inc. said, “there was a massive gap all right.” He pointed his thumb at me. “But it wasn’t at the sharp end of the spear.”

USC Boy considered that for a moment, nodded, and went off to the university for what was presumably his second round of schooling for the day.

END


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Obstacle course

October 10, 2019 § 3 Comments

When I post an upcoming ride, someone invariably posts the following:

  1. Pace?
  2. How much elevation?
  3. How far?

I usually try to be honest:

  1. You’ll be tired at the end.
  2. It won’t be flat.
  3. Bring your passport.

What is it with people who want to know everything before they start? Look, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long. There will be climbing. Will you get dropped? Hell, yes. Will you be miserable? Hell, yes. Will you rue the day you were born? Hell, yes.

But that’s not all. You’ll get stronger, we’ll almost certainly wait for you, you’ll feel like you accomplished something, and most importantly, you’ll be home before noon.

Back in the day you never asked that kind of stuff. First, no one even had an odometer, much less a way to measure elevation. Rides were either hilly or flat. Long (100), medium (70), or short (30). Fast or slow. And crucially, the ride was typically decided at the start.

We didn’t have the ‘Bag, the ‘Gram, or the Stravver, and it was too complicated to pick up the phone and call a dozen people, so we had predetermined start times on days of the week, and as we rolled out of town we chose the day’s route.

I say “we” but it was never “we.” The chooser was Fields, and he rarely told you where you were going. He made turns and you deduced from the turns where the route most likely was. Guadalupe towards the river? Probably San Marcos. MLK eastbound? Manor and parts northeast, or maybe Webberville and parts east. Bee Cave/Loop 360? Volente or Marble Falls. One thing’s for sure. You never, ever asked, “Where are we going today?”

Why not?

Because it was a sign of weakness. WTF did you care where we were going if you had good legs? Because you had to be home at a certain time? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you had some specific plan you were following? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you were scared? Oh, okay. That will be used against you later.

In short, if you were talking you were losing. Every word was parsed and fed into the calculus of “Who’s going well and who’s going to get dropped and who’s going to tear my legs off?” Riding was mental as much as physical; there were no ersatz measuring sticks like TSS or FTP or IDGAF. The ride was the yardstick, and where you came unstitched was how well you did, and the focal point for all the harassing you had to put up with the rest of the week, and the nucleus around which you could build out your pathetic excuses.

Scott Dickson was a master mathematician of this sort of ride calculus and would vary the ride en route depending on how bad or good you felt. If you felt good he’d make it longer and harder, whereas if you felt bad he’d make it longer and harder. “Let’s turn here and add a couple of miles,” meant “Let’s turn here and add twenty miles where there is no place to get water because your bottle is empty and it’s 100 degrees.”

Nowadays people just quiver behind their keyboards, and it doesn’t help them ride better. It deters them from riding, or sends them scurrying to some pre-fab ride where there is no surprise of any kind. You’re doing the “team ride” and like every team ride you will never get any better, never go any faster, never do anything this week that you didn’t do the one before. But the payoff is that there are no surprises.

Kind of sad because life is one big surprise, by which I mean obstacle.

From the moment you awake to the moment you die, you are faced with obstacles to surmount, find a way around, have someone help you climb over, or push out of the way. And you don’t get better at navigating obstacles by following the crowd, although there’s apparently security in knowing that when you dash madly over the cliff at least you’ll have lots of company.

Life, as with cycling, is filled with people who think that the easy way is the easy way, never grasping that it’s the hardest way of all.

END

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You will want to do everything in these. Yes, everything.

This is gonna hurt

October 9, 2019 § 10 Comments

A reader sent a link to this editorial in the NY Times. Basically, cars are bad and drivers use them to kill people. The only way we can fix that is by regulations, smaller car sizes, slower speeds, and etc.

The big problem with this is that it identifies an obvious problem, drivers killing bicycle pedalers, and then it leaps to a bunch of solutions that are never going to happen. As a side note, the editorial blames all this on cars rather than on people. This is because if you blame motorists for killing people with their cars, it suddenly applies to most everyone, including the writers at the NY Times.

It’s a lot more convenient to blame the cars than the people who drive them.

So how do you get people to stop using their cars to kill people?

My Answer: You have to get people to stop using cars.

And that is really hard, but it’s not hard for the reasons that you think, i.e. the car lobby, the transportation lobby, Mr. Oil and Ms. Gas, governmental inertia, discrimination against cyclists, and all the fun punching bags.

The reason it is really hard is that in order to get people to stop using cars, YOU have to stop using a car. It’s that simple. Until there is a critical mass of people who ditch their cars and start using the public streets, it’s all just talk, email chatter, and angry exchanges on the Internet.

Do you have a car? Do you use it? You are the problem.

Do you want there to be fewer cars? Do you want motorists to quit hitting bicycles? You have to ditch the $400,000 orange Lamborghini and start riding and walking. Trust me, it’s going to involve a big lifestyle change, not limited to acquiring smaller clothing sizes.

The fact is that once the streets get clotted with people, the cars slow down and diminish in number. Santa Monica is Exhibit A. They ruined it for cars when they striped it and dumped scooters on every corner. Now when you drive in SaMo you are the paranoid one because there is a ped/bike/scooter every ten feet. You slow the fuck down and, if you’re in SaMo all that much, you get there using something other than a car or you accept the third-class citizenship that you, a motorist, so richly deserve.

One single person on a bike has an outsized impact on the car community simply because most motorists, when confronted with a bike, take defensive action. They slow down.

But in order to make them do that, especially in areas where bike traffic is light, or in places like Texas and Florida where bikes as transport aren’t even acknowledged, you have to suck it up and get out in the streets. The right to use the street is like any other. The minute you stop using it, it’s gone.

It doesn’t do any good to draw a distinction between “good” drivers of the NY Times and “bad” drivers of the state of Texas. The only thing that does any “good” is to step off the crazy train of the passenger car transportation network and plug into networks that don’t use cars, whether it’s your SUV or your Tesla.

Ouch, huh?

END


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Carmaggeddon Day 13: Street racin’

October 8, 2019 § 12 Comments

I had to run some errands. So I got on my bike and bombed down the hill. The cars were fine except for a guy in a Rage Rover who passed a bit too close.

Hawthorne was clotted with cars, but except for a couple of sections the lanes are so narrow that you can easily take the entire right lane and no one cares. There is no “as far to the right as practicable,” i.e. it’s impossible to share the lane with a car. So it’s yours.

Nor did I shoot up the side to the red lights and aggravate people, but rather waited in line like the cars. No one honked. I could have slotted over to Anza where there is a “bike lane,” but having the entire car lane to myself was a far superior bike lane and it is good education for the cagers, too, having them see a bike out on the big, busy street just like them.

At Sepulveda there was a gutter bunny waiting for the light. He was riding a mid-90’s Specialized Stump Jumper. The chain was deep rust red stuck in the big ring and I could tell the derailleur didn’t work. He was wearing big black work boots, a backpack, thick gloves, and a helmet. He glanced at me and didn’t like me, or maybe he thought, “Another one I’m going to have to eat.”

The light turned green and he stomped on it. He didn’t have a ton of acceleration but he wasn’t slow by any means. I wasn’t going to get into a pissing contest so I let him hammer away. He alternated between the gutter and the sidewalk. I caught him at the next light, which he didn’t like much. I didn’t have anything to prove.

He came hot off the line again, this time working it. I saw the sinews in his arms strain as he pulled the bars. He even got out of the saddle. He really didn’t want to be anywhere near me.

I caught him at the next light. Hawthorne rises slightly all the way past Del Amo, after which it goes downhill. He was pissed now. He was obviously accustomed to these accelerations getting rid of the dilettantes but there I was, all #fakehipster, catching him at the lights.

At Torrance I decided to take the bait because cyclist. This time it was me who stomped off the line and I left him. I caught the look on his face out of the corner of my eye and he was surprised but not defeated. Pretty soon I heard his tires whining. He was rolling at the speed of thunder. I pretended not to even be pedaling but had to lean into it as hard as I could to pull away. We caught a couple of greens and I hit the downhill past the little mall past Del Amo and was gone

Until he caught me again at the freeway, a couple of miles later.

We were both sopping wet. He was breathing hard. The cars had kind of been watching because we’d been going only slightly slower than they were.

At the freeway I hit it. I had a ways to go before I got to Rosecrans and I was fried. It was now all mental; I could drop him but I couldn’t put him away.

Up ahead I saw the left hand signal at Rosecrans. It was green. I laid into it. He wasn’t too far behind. Had to make it look like I was casually going 32. Swooped through the light and he went straight. Beat him by about a hundred feet.

Glad I didn’t have anything to prove.

END


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Carmaggeddon Day 12: Bedbugs

October 7, 2019 § 4 Comments

I rode down to the barbershop and realized that ever since I admitted I was a drivaholic and began biking everywhere, I’ve spoken with a lot more people. Bikes make you speak to people even if you’re introverted, as I am.

I sat down in the chair. “What would you like me to do today?” the lady barber asked.

“Give me some more hair.”

“If I could do that I wouldn’t be standing here,” she said. “I’d be relaxing on my own private Hawai’ian island.”

“In that case make all the white hair go away.”

“It’s not white. It’s gray. And they are highlights that mix in with all of the red, brown, and gold colors naturally in your hair. People pay hundreds of dollars to get their hair to look like this.”

“People,” I said. “You mean ‘women.’”

“Well, that’s true.”

“Guys don’t. This guy, in particular. I just want more hair and less gray, like Willy.”

“Who’s Willy?”

“He’s a homeless guy I met in Santa Monica on Friday.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Now that I ride everywhere, I am tired all the time. So I stopped and got some coffee and this homeless dude wrapped in a blanket came up and asked for a dollar, so I gave him five.”

“Oh my goodness. You know, if you give money to homeless people they just spend it on drugs and alcohol.”

“Kind of like the kids here in PV and their parents. Only their drugs cost a lot more than five bucks.”

“Was he appreciative?”

“I don’t think so. I hope not. But we chatted a bit. He was like, ‘Man, I’m rich now.’”

“’What’d you do before you were homeless?’” I asked him.

“’I don’t remember, it was so many years ago. But the last time I got homeless, you know, I got four strikes and was out.’”

“’Four? I thought there were only three.’”

“’I had a good landlord. Or a crappy ump. Anyway, I was living large. Section 8 right over there, smack in the middle of Santa Monica.’”

As soon as I said “Section 8” all the Trumper barbers tensed up, trying to pretend they weren’t listening. The barbershop got completely silent except for snipping sounds and me.

“’Yeah, my first strike was a couch. I dragged it in off the street but didn’t check it too good. Turns out the bottom was covered in bedbugs and they infested all the apartments. Landlord had to spend thousands to fumigate and exterminate those little fuckers. He wasn’t too happy.’”

“’I guess not.’”

“’Then strike two was, you know, I spent a long time killing all those bedbugs with my thumb. They’d be climbing on the wall and I’d squish ‘em. Problem is the walls was white and the bedbugs was all full of blood, my blood, and they’d leave a big red gooey splotch on the wall. The whole apartment was covered with these brown splotches so my landlord wasn’t too happy about that.’”

“’I guess not.’”

“’Can’t really blame him. He was a good sort.’”

“’Then what?’”

“’Strike three was the cats. We was allowed two cats so I had two cats, right? One was a girl cat and she got pregnant and decided to have the kittens in my underwear drawer. They was pretty cute. I loved them kittens but there was nine of ‘em. Nine plus two is eleven.’”

“’Yes, generally.’”

“’So the landlord comes in one day and I’ve got eleven cats and they had crapped a bunch and he wasn’t too happy about that.’”

“’I can see that. Strike four?’”

“’I missed rent. $35. Couldn’t find it nowhere, so he evicted me.’”

“’How long ago was that?’”

“’Two years ago. But I’m okay now thanks to you!’ He smiled at me and flashed the fiver, so I figured it was okay, you know?”

My barber wasn’t much of a Trumper. “That was nice of you. I hope I get at least a five dollar tip,” she said.

And she did.

END


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The real “hands-free”

October 4, 2019 § 13 Comments

Who are you kidding? You got the kit, the bike, the shoes, and the magic helmet of eternal safety and life that guarantees you will live forever or at least not get shamed by Dear Leader and others.

You do the rides, drink the coffee, drink the Kool-Aid, talk the watts.

You Stravver, Twitter, TrainerRoad, Zwift, Bikesnob, and most of all you Bike Radar and Washington DC Rainmaker.

But you still can’t ride with your hands off the bars.

WTF?

I know what you’re thinking:

  1. I wish I could ride hands-free.
  2. I wish I could raise my hands in #fakevictory at the #fakerace.
  3. I wish I could take off my vest and stow it without stopping.
  4. I wish I could stretch my arms, back, neck, and shoulders while riding.
  5. I wish I could open complex Barbie food packages designed for MIT grads by MIT grads without having to get off my bike.
  6. I wishwishwishwish I could take awesome videos like Ramon and Baby Seal, and awesome photos like Liutaurus while riding.
  7. I’m terrified of falling on my face.

When I was a little kid riding hands-free, dad used to laugh and say, “Look ma, no hands!” Then he’d take his hands off his bars. Then, “Look ma, no feet!” and he’d take his feet off the pedals. Then he’d make a big smashing sound and say, “Wook ma, no teef!” We thought that was the funniest thing ever, until one time I was riding around with no hands, hit a chughole, and launched onto my forehead.

This is the conundrum. Do you want to have the basic minimum skills to be a good rider? Or don’t you? If you do, you have to learn to ride without your hands. In my adult life I’ve had plenty of bicycle falling off incidents, but never as a result of having my hands off the bars, and it makes sense. The wheels are so big and the gyroscopic effect so great if you’re going at any kind of speed at all that it takes a truly freak incident to knock you down, especially if you regularly ride hands-free.

So here’s how you do it:

  1. Put on tennis shoes.
  2. Go to a parking lot or other flat, wide open place.
  3. Ride in a straight line with your hands on the tops, at least 10 mph.
  4. Lift your hands so that only your fingertips are touching the tops.
  5. Lift your fingers a couple of inches off the tops.
  6. Freak out and grab your bars in a panic.
  7. Repeat, each time raising your fingers higher.
  8. Do this until you can ride a full 60 seconds hands-free.
  9. Start every ride hands-free for a couple of minutes until you can comfortably pedal with your hands by your sides.
  10. Extend your hands-free riding distance, like that time G$ rode from Hermosa to Santa Monica hands-free through rush hour traffic.
  11. Extend your hands-free range like that time Wily, in the middle of a dense Donut pack, stripped his vest and stowed it, going uphill through Portuguese bend, half-sprinting, with an idiot on each side about 2mm away.
  12. Forget about that time that Konsmo took his hands off the bars and fell and broke his wrist.

There. You now look as good as the bike.

END


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Suspendered in time

October 3, 2019 § 1 Comment

I still remember my first pair of cycling tights. I bought them at Freewheeling for $32, which was incredible because they were so expensive, incredible because they were made of some woolly-fuzzy material, and incredible because it was like I was back in Third Grade.

In Third Grade we had a Christmas program. Young folks won’t know or believe it, but that was when the entire school celebrated Jesus and sang Christmas songs and prayed to Santa, the dog of presents. We had Jewish students, non-Christian Chinese students, Indian students, and we lorded it over them, literally. Our dog was better than their dog because, presents.

No one cared about their sensibilities, either. No holy Jesus Present Day in your religion? Sucks to be you. The Jewish kids, especially my girlfriend Joy Silverstein, always tried to talk shit about Santa and Christmas. “We have eight Christmases, it’s called Hanukkah. We get a present every single day,” she’d say.

“That’s only eight presents,” I’d sneer. “Santajesus lets us have as many as we can get. Plus ours are all in one big pile.”

“Jesus was actually Jewish,” she’d retort.

“Why’d he leave and become a Christian, then, if it was so great?”

That always put an end to things until we got our math tests back and she’d be able to lord that over me, along with reading, spelling, and lunch.

In our Christmas program that year, I was an elf, one of Santajesus’s helpers. My mom had to make me an elf outfit out of green felt. Young folks will not believe it but parents were given homework like, “Make your kid an outfit. Here’s the pattern.” The parents, that is, mom, would then have to buy the fabric and sew it. Didn’t matter if you were a fucking M.D., which mom was. You still better be able to sew an elf suit if you was a lady in Texas.

Mom was a better doc than a seamstress, because the little felt onesie was a tad on the short side. But the weirdest thing about putting on girl’s clothes for a performance in front of the whole school and their parents were the green panty hose I had to wear to match the onesie. I still remember pulling them on and how they form fit over my skinny legs. It felt pretty good.

Anyway, on the night of the big program, all of us elves had to make a big circular huddle, lean in, and hubbub about the upcoming sleigh trip Santajesus was about to take. My back was to the crowd. I bent over, and the entire crowd roared with laughter.

“Man,” I thought, “us elves are killin’ it. We are funny AF.” The laughter got even more intense as I chuckled to myself. “Man, us elves are stealing the show. Santajesus ain’t got shit on us.”

The huddle ended but the laughter didn’t, and it wasn’t until afterwards that about 200 kids took the opportunity to come up to me after the program and tell me that I’d shown my ass to the whole crowd in my see-through pantyhose.

So buying those first cycling tights at Freewheeling brought back cross-dressing, exhibitionist memories of an ambivalent sort. I bought the tights anyway because Austin used to get cold in January, before we humans melted winter.

And the thing about those tights is that they wouldn’t stay up. You’d pedal a bit and pretty soon they’d be sagging in the back and bagging in the front. One day Fields, whose tights were Lycra and always perfectly snugged, saw me with my fuzzy droopy tights. “What’s up with the sag?” he asked. This was decades before people intentionally wore their pants around their ankles, something that never caught on in cycling.

“I dunno.”

“Aren’t you wearing suspenders?”

“What?”

Fields rolled his steely blue eyes, sat up in his saddle, and hoisted his jersey to reveal a pair of world-champion-stripes suspenders with a Campagnolo motif clipped to his tights. I ran out and bought a pair, and immediately realized that you could now tell who was in the club and who wasn’t. The freddies were saggies, the roadies were suspendered; you knew it from the way their tights fit and from the faint outline of the straps under their winter clothing.

On my last trip to Austria I was walking all the time and stress dieting and my pants eventually began falling off. My belt was max cinched and even so, every few steps I’d have to hitch my jeans up by the back belt loop. It didn’t bother me much until I got to Innsbruck and started hiking in the Alps. The sweat quickly soaked my jeans, weighing them down and forcing me to walk with one hand on my pants.

After I got back down the mountain I stopped into a ski shop and bought some suspenders. Now I wear them almost every day, which is pretty proper for an old man. When the weather gets cold, I’ll miss not clipping those suspenders to my tights and pulling the straps over my shoulders and having one of those subtle markers of “roadie,” discernible only to those who know.

We have better equipment now, but like every improvement, with rainbow-stripe suspenders we had to give something up along the way.

END


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